Homemade gifts a thoughtful gesture or just a crocheted cry for help?

Dear Sanity Journal,

“I have always thought of Christmas time, when it has come round,” Charles Dickens wrote, “as a good time; a kind, forgiving, charitable time; the only time I know of, in the long calendar of the year, when men and women seem by one consent to open their shut-up hearts freely, and to think of people ... as if they really were fellow passengers to the grave, and not another race of creatures bound on other journeys.”

Too true! In this season of bonhomie, of joy and peace, of hearthsides and chestnuts and fountains of nog, my heart swells and glows and shoots fireworks like in that Katy Perry video, so filled am I with compassion and love for all mankind. The Family of Man = The Family of Rachel. Plus, you know, the people I’m actually related to. They’re pretty great, too.

Which is why you will pry this glue gun from my cold, dead fingers.

With love for all mankind,

Rachel

Dear Sanity Journal,

Yes, this year I will MAKE ALL THE STUFF!!!

Yours,

In excellence,

Rachel

P.S. And it’s only the middle of December!

P.P.S. But, I mean, obviously I know this isn’t some sort of competition. Not exactly, anyway. Though, if there were Silver Stars awarded for general awesomeness, I’d definitely get one. But that’s not what this is about! It’s about handmade gifts being truly from the heart. Nothing says “I love you” quite like seashells I found glued to a mirror frame I bought at Ikea.

Dear Sanity Journal,

But first, a few ornaments. The guiding principle here is “cute.” Tiny snowflakes crocheted with a miniscule steel hook? Cute! Stiffen the daylights out of them, until they’re lethal as throwing stars? So cute!

Teensy knitted mittens clipped together with super-teensy clothes pins and hung on the light strings around my Christmas tree? Do I even need to say it? Cute! An obsessive amount of these mittens, because if one pair is good, 9,827 pairs are better? Beyond cute!

Little stars made of batting and stuffed with Fiberfill, bedecked with googly eyes and ribbon bow ties? Excuse me while I swoon from cute. More of these stars, even though I already have some because my mom and I made them several years ago? Call the Cute Police! I’m committing felony cuteness!

I genuflect to The Cute. It is bigger than me, it is bigger than you, it is bigger than all of us. I am but a soldier armed with five types of glue and variegated rick-rack.

In service of The Cute,

Rachel

Dear Sanity Journal,

I haven’t actually put up a Christmas tree yet. In fact, decorations-wise, my home might best be described as Early Manifesto Writer.

Nevertheless,

Awash in ornaments,

Rachel

Dear Sanity Journal,

Time to make some gifts! I probably should compose a list of what I’ll give to whom, or I could just go to Hobby Lobby yet again and throw stuff into my basket willy-nilly (as long as it’s on sale) with vague, half-formed plans of what I can do with it. This MO is the only possible reason for why I recently, while pawing through a storage bin, discovered a bag inexplicably filled with loose buttons and a tangle of jute.

(Proof that the universe is on to me: I’m listening to my iPod on “shuffle” mode and “Psycho Killer” by Talking Heads comes on. Except, I hear “psycho crafter.” As in, “Psycho crafter, qu’est-ce que c’est?” Well, not much, David Byrne, except that I find myself in possession of a pound of loose buttons.)

It’s something that Christina Caspari, owner of Tangled in Grand Junction, often observes among her customers. They wander into the store, finger the yarns, and murmur, “I don’t need it, but ...”

Besides the timeless philosophical dilemma of “need” vs. “want,” this speaks to the optimism of people who like to make stuff. They are people who look at the random detritus of life and think, “I can do something with that.” It’s as hopeful a thing as modern life will offer, evidence that the wheels still turn, a bastion and bulwark of Yankee ingenuity.

At least, this is what I tell myself when forced to admit that I clipped out and saved the illustrations from a 2003 Harry Potter desk calendar (and decoupaged my recipe box with them). I will not be answering the door when the “Hoarding: Buried Alive” crew knocks.

Armed with Modge Podge and a sponge brush,

Rachel

Dear Sanity Journal,

Remember that time a few years ago when I drove a U-Haul — towing a car! — across the country? Alone? In the middle of winter? Through two blizzards? Anyway, among my worldly possessions crammed in the back of that truck was a snack baggie full of sand. Yes, I deemed it worthwhile to transport sand 2,200 miles.

And I still do! I’m grateful to have it as I dribble a few grains into the bottom of a little glass bottle. I poke various miniscule shells — some barely bigger than an eyelash, all of which I found — into the bottle and seal it with a tiny cork that I secure in place with Super Glue. A pendant! A wonderful gift for, um ... anyone! Who wouldn’t want this? I’ll braid some thin leather and thread it through the loop on top of the cork, and voila! A necklace! Maybe I’ll inflict it on give it to my sister-in-law. It’ll have real significance for a lifelong Tennessean.

It does not pay to know me at Christmastime.

With two fingers accidentally stuck together,

And a mercenary sense of gift-giving,

Rachel

Dear Sanity Journal,

Gift idea! A framed series of Chinese characters representing “love” and “home” and similarly nice concepts that can be expressed with a single character (Mandarin is deeply unaccommodating in this regard, I find). Granted, I am not Chinese, nor did I take calligraphy classes when I lived in China, but the other teachers in the fourth grade staff room were always very complimentary of my Chinese writing. In fact, they stopped just short of patting me on the head and calling me adorable.

Plus, I got some cool square frames half-price at Michael’s. Rather than buying just one to see how this whole “write Chinese with ink and a brush” thing goes, I bought a bunch. How hard can it be, right? Chinese characters for everyone!

Confidently,

Rachel

Dear Sanity Journal,

AAAAAAAAAAARRRRRGGGHHHHHHHH!!!!!!!!!!

Cursing the Middle Kingdom,

Rachel

Dear Sanity Journal,

Several deep breaths and a Snickers later, I realize I just need to practice. A lot. I remember once seeing an old man dipping a giant brush — it must have been 4 feet long — into the ditch and writing characters with water on the sidewalk. I practically fell over in my haste to attach philosophical significance to the evaporating words and to his steady perseverance.

I NEED TO BE LIKE THAT OLD CHINESE MAN!!!!

Except, you know, taller.

Shengdan jie kuaile,

Rachel

Dear Sanity Journal,

Speaking of philosophy, why this compulsion to make gifts in the first place? Wouldn’t it be a lot easier to just buy a Drakkar Noir boxed gift set?

“I think people just like the personal touch,” said Carol Costopoulos, owner of The Artist’s Haven in Grand Junction. “I think they feel like it’s more special than going and just buying a gift card. You’ve put the effort into it and you think they will treasure it more.”

However, time becomes a factor. November rushes past in a breath of pumpkin spice, and December lands with the thud of a thousand-pound fruitcake. Only 25 days to make stuff! Less if it has to be sent somewhere! Costopoulos said she is low on or sold out of 4x4-inch, 8x8-inch and 10x10-inch canvases, “because they can paint a quicker gift if it’s smaller.”

Amen and hallelujah. I’m not a painter, but I do relate to the need for swiftness. This is why I bought a hoodie and iron-on letters, so I can give my brother a sweatshirt that says “COLLEGE.” Handmade-ish.

Not panicked quite yet,

But getting there,

Rachel

Dear Sanity Journal,

Jewelry! I’ll give people jewelry for Christmas. And OK, so I gave people jewelry the year before last, and the year before that, but, well, too bad. Just look how pretty these amethyst beads are. So lovely! So shiny! Such a beautiful necklace. A good gift! A good and generous gift for a special person! Yep. I’ll just give it to ...

I want it.

Avariciously,

Rachel

P.S. Bad Rachel! Bad!

Dear Sanity Journal,

It shouldn’t take long to learn how to do stained glass, right?

Right?

Possibly in need of an intervention,

Rachel

Dear Sanity Journal,

Idea! I can just finish some of my former, half-done projects and give those as gifts! All I have to do is root through a few bins to come up with:

an almost-finished chenille toque that, from the looks of it, will keep a ripe watermelon cozy on those chilly summer mornings. What can I say, I didn’t have a pattern. It’s a. .. vivid blue.

5 feet of an aran knit scarf. Unfortunately, it’s knit with Red Heart yarn, and not the new-fangled soft kind, but the old-school, soft-as-steel-wool kind. At least I had the decency to use ecru.

one square of a proposed jute rug, and lingering PTSD caused by crocheting jute.

rows of fabric squares sewn together for unknown purpose.

several rows of a meandering, trapezoidal afghan in shades of green and purple (my favorites).

a single wooden star painted gold and adorned with rhinestones.

So ... yeah. Let’s just go ahead and close those bins. And put them in a closet. And shut the door. And lock it.

Unaware that I harbored so many secrets,

Rachel

Dear Sanity Journal,

Back when my parents were in the altered state of their first years together, they gave their families macrame wall hangings for Christmas. They even made the beads they incorporated into the designs. Knotted in phantasmagoric ‘70s hues of the finest acrylic, they looked — or so I imagine my hapless aunts and grandparents thinking as they opened the boxes Christmas morning — like the death throes of Timothy Leary’s spider.

I ponder this as I glue yet another seashell to the aforementioned Ikea mirror.

To me, it is beautiful. My fondness for shells borders on obsession. I dream about them. When I lived in Florida, I often went to the beach twice a day — on the way to and home from work. Plus, on the weekends. They’re why I got SCUBA certified. Finding shells is like finding treasure, and don’t even get me started on the unparalleled joy of organizing shells into snack baggies according to type and size.

So, it’s inconceivable to me that these feelings might not be shared. This is what can make the handmade gift tragic, and it’s what makes the handmade gift so precious: It’s not the thing, but the hands that made it.

And these hands are now without fingerprints, on account of the hot glue scalding them off.

Considering a life of undetectable crime,

Rachel

Dear Sanity Journal,

I feel like I have under-utilized glitter in my efforts so far. Also, I have yet to break out the miter saw, wood burner and Dremel tool.

Sheesh. Amateur.

In sackcloth,

Rachel

Dear Sanity Journal,

It’s midnight. Someone apparently broke into my house and drank the Diet Coke, because it’s mysteriously all gone. I’m squeezed onto half a couch cushion, because the rest of the couch (which I made) is covered with yarn. I just discovered some sand in my ear. I have ink on my face and dotting on my socks, and there’s glue in my hair. I just want to finish this one thing, and then I’ll go to bed. For real this time.

It’s quiet except for the soft Christmas carols. My hands are cramped and my eyes are gritty. I might not finish everything on time. I might end up making an 11th hour Amazon.com purchase. But ... there’s still time. There’s time and there’s magic yet.

It’s the most wonderful time of the year. Merry Christmas.

Love,

Rachel


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